Working with relics


Each monastery is a place where holy relics are preserved. The Ceremonial describes its ideal location: "is prepared in the church building, or adjacent places, a place where we can respectfully keep the relics of the saints." The decoration of this place is also specified. So there is in monasteries a job with relics. In the obituary circulars coming from other Carmels, it tells us of the zeal deployed in this duty by the sisters.

 reliquaire contenants1



The Carmel of Lisieux, they also prepared for the devotion of the community and for the sisters themselves, reliquaries containing relics. It could be relics of a single male or female saint arranged in a very small reliquary as we see above, on a velvet or silk background. A label is then placed around the mortal remains, with a very neat calligraphy: the name of the saint or the holy, which makes these remains a sacred object, base for the intensity of prayers in hope.

reliquaire etiquettes2


Each Carmelite could also retain a small personal reliquary entrusted during the profession, as one can admire an example below. The Papier d'exaction specifies to wear it hidden.

Therese herself was from her youth dedicated to the cult of relics, as evidenced on the occasion of letters and poems, but above all the story of her trip to Rome (Ms A, fro folio 58v onward).

A part of the spoils of the young traveler has been preserved and can be seen here.


Sometimes the reliquary is more ambitious and they prepare a small frame as below with several relics inside. A pious picture placed in the center completes the set. These frames of 15 cm. x 20 cm. are exposed on a wall or furniture.

 cadre reliques  cadre reliques 2

The ornamentation of these reliquary frames was also made with ribet. These are thin strips of cardboard turned on themselves; they are gold or colored.

  reliquaire ribet2

For all this material, the sisters bought from Touchard and Bias Brothers & Co., two houses of Paris.

This is a work for specialists. We know that among the contemporaries of Therese is Sr Aimée de Jésus who had been placed in the office of the relics since her profession (in 1873), and was still there at the time of Therese’s death. The various steps of the manufacture of an individual reliquary, with the precious remains sewn on a background can be seen below. The threads are sealed on the back, and then inserted into a container, wherein the glass rests on a gold edge under cover.

portefolio reliquaire sepia

where do the relics come from?

Where does the content of these reliquaries come from? ... Many relics were offered to Carmel by its founder and first superior, Father Sauvage. Even before the foundation in 1837, Father had made a pilgrimage to St. Radegonde, including relics remaining in the church that bears her name in Poitiers. He had to touch several objects to the precious relics of the saint. Shortly after the founding of the monastery, Father Sauvage is quick to give his community relics he obtains with the help of his friends. He thus gives a relic of the True Cross to Carmel, part of the bones of St. Philomena, the relics of St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul. This same year, 1839, he gives several other relics, including those of St. Teresa and the tomb of the Blessed Virgin. Borie cornay reliquaireLT

In 1845, again via Abbot Sauvage, Bishop Emmanuel Vérrolles, Bishop of Manchuria, visits Lisieux to see his former teacher who is no other than the abbot, offers the Carmel relics of the Venerable Servants of God Charles Cornay and Bishop Pierre Borie (see photo to the right). Both will be canonized in 1988.

Other relics are of a very diverse origin. Based on our Foundations, after Archbishop Robin's death in 1855, the new Bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, Msgr. Didiot, offered two bones of Saint Mercury during a visit in February 1857. And in 1861 Miss Hardouin of Caen, with her brother established in Rome, procured several relics for the Carmel of Lisieux. In 1874, the Carmel of Messine in Paris gives the relics of St. Therese and St. Genevieve. Fr. Roger, Sulpician, also enriches the community with a large number of relic fragments. Fr. Turquentin, pastor of Tortisambert, gave two reliquaries containing very beautiful bones (?)  and Miss Sauvage offered the beautiful choir reliquary which had belonged to the parish priest of Cernay, her brother.

Finally, in 1891, the sisters have relics of St John of the Cross, which were exposed for the veneration of the faithful during the centenary celebrations. Perhaps they were obtained by the good Brother Simeon who wrote to Therese in June: In announcing to your Mother Superior I sent her a few relics today, very few but with the hope well-founded of being able to provide her more ... You will see by the authentification there are some that came to me from Parma. It is very difficult now to obtain these remains of Saints and Venerables, Servants of God. The True Cross is only given to Bishops anymore. Among my personal relics, I found a St. Teresa, patroness of my Sister, I deprive myself gladly for you. (Brother Simeon - June 12th, 1891).

works of hair under glass

Another type of remembrance brings people closer, living or dead; it is a done with hair. These are finely cut and coated with glue to be, once dried, cut into shapes of leaves and flowers. The ensemble is placed within a frame of appropriate size (about 23 cm. x 20 cm.), under glass. We see below right a detail of the work. These very special works of art were sold at the reception of the monastery, as can be seen in the account book of income.

 cheveux souvenir cheveux3

This tradition of human hair is particularly rooted in the Martin family. We read in a letter from Mrs. Martin to Mrs. Guérin that they will have the hair arranged of her sister Marie-Dosithée recently deceased  (March 4th, 1877). We kept these artistic works with hair for several family members.

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